Author Archive
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Raggers

Raggers

Informant: How did the Ragger Program come about? Am I allowed to know?

Interviewer: Yes of course. So . . . they would always have game and competitions at Y-Camp, that was the big thing at the end of the week to always have competitions- cabin competitions, to see who’s the best cabin or who’s the best . . you know . . swimming, hiking, stuff on the lake. And one year there was this one kid that went to camp  . . . and I guess . . . was he in a wheel chair? Yeah. And he just had great camp spirit. He couldn’t participate in any of the games but he was the greatest camper up there. So one day they tied a plain bandana around his neck as a surprise for him because he was such a great kid . . great camper and that’s how the Ragger Program started.

Interviewer: So is that unique to Ta Ta Pochon?

Informant: No. It’s unique to the YMCA program, so that’s all across the nation and the world

Interviewer: What the process for getting a rag?

Informant: The rag is just an outward sign of your inward challenges. Okay. That’s what it is and its all personal challenges that you’re making to become a better person and you have different levels of the rag. You start with a blue rag and when you’re 12-years old you can get a blue rag. Before that you can get what’s called leathers. So you can start as a little kid and you can get your leathers but it’s not as elaborate. You just make challenges for yourself; to be a better person, a better friend . . . I don’t know. And so for like the blue rag, I don’t know what the first [challenge] is, but it’s like service to others or service to God. It’s personal goals that you should reach yourself. If you think you’ve reached it, then the next year you can go on to the next one. The next one is silver. Which is specific to some other challenge. You make the challenge, the rag challenge, and then you also make an inner challenge so that you can go on the next year. Some people, some years say, “you know what, I’m not ready to move on”. The highest rag is the white rag and we say that those people walk on water. I never got my white rag because I don’t walk on water. The youngest you can get a white rage is 21.

Interviewer: Who decides who gets a white rag?

Informant: You do, but you have to have somebody tie your rag and if that person doesn’t feel that you’re ready, they can say that, “I’m not going to tie your rag”. So with the raggers someone can say, “I don’t feel comfortable tying your next rag,  I think you’re too young, I think you’re just doing it because they status etc.”. Most of the time people take it a little more seriously. Most people say, “I’m not ready to go on to my next rag yet, I think I want to kind stay here”. I stopped at gold. Because when you stop going to camp . . .

Interviewer: How far is that?

Informant: It’s blue, silver, brown, gold and then you have red, purple, white. A lot of people stop at their purples and they are people who have been doing camp for twenty years and they’ll stop at their purples. I have known some people who have gotten their white rags at 22 years old, not too many though, not too many

So that the number one . . . that’s a tradition, and that’s not just specific to Ta Ta Pochon.

Interviewer’s notes:

The story is interesting in that one tradition, from one story, at one camp, has come to influence the YMCA camp tradition of the entire world, which in turn has sparked the use of an international folk object in the form of the rag. Because of the story and the meaning behind it, the rag has come to have more emotional worth than its actual monetary worth; it’s value comes from the tradition of the Ragger Program. Additionally, upon further research I have discovered that there is no one single “Ragger Program” website with which to reference, so each camp has their own individual portion on their websites, which had made for many variations. So aside from the folk object itself, the origin story has become legendary, and thus also folklore.

For a different version of the origin story see: http://ymcablueridgeassembly.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/the-story-of-the-rag/

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Boulder Woman (as told by an active barer)

Boulder Woman (as told by an active barer)

Informant: I learned it my first year, and then took it on as nature director at camp. Boulder woman is an exclusive legend of YMCA camp Ta Ta Pochon because it had happened up there. A friend of mine and I were taking a group of campers on a trail, a nature trail which crosses the stream about half a mile up from camp and that’s were Boulder Man, or Boulder Woman, actually lives, or lived. And back in the 60’s she was living up that area which we call Bible Point. We took the kids up there on our Wednesday hikes. I do like to do the hike at dusk because it is more fun. We got the whole area  . . . it’s dark, not too dark, enough where you’re hearing from all the animals and once and a while you hear (imitates wolf cry) “ooooooooh” or you hear some twigs breaking which I love the best. It really helps. Anyways . . . so my friends and I were going up that way to see what the trail was like and we someone running away from us, about a half a mile, and we found out that it was Boulder Woman

Interviewer: So Boulder Woman was a real person?

Informant: Boulder Woman. We saw her running.

Interviewer: And that’s where this story started?

Informant: I was told a previous story, but this is with my own eyes, what I saw. Somebody running up a half a mile, so we took off after her, just the two of us, no kids with us at the time, and we said “hey, what’s going on, this is camp and why are you here?” Face to face and umm, so she said well, “Her name was Boulder, and her family lived just above camp where two streams cross”. That’s true, there are two streams that cross at camp. So she went on to tell us that there was a flood in the 60’s, that wiped out her family’s place. Some people just call that [the chair] the chimney, but it actually is Boulder Woman’s throne. And so people will say that’s Boulder Man’s chair, just the chimney, no! Maryann and I know the truth of Boulder Woman.

So we were running along beside her, trying to catch up with her so she said, “okay, you got me”. We said, “we don’t want to hurt, you we just want to figure out what’s going on . . . if we could help you”.  So, she said, “No, I’ve been here since the 60’s and I lost my husband and son in the flood of 1960”. Which actually is true because a couple of buildings from camp were destroyed by a flood as well. You could just see parts of buildings hanging around. Everything she said was true, correct, so we kind of believed her. We started following her around, she told us the whole story where she lost her husband and her son and her whole house, she just wanted to stay up there, I mean where else did she have to go? So she didn’t want the kids to know that she was up there, she didn’t want them running up there. And so umm . . . what she would do, she didn’t care for littering, and we were thinking we don’t either. So what she wanted to do then was that she wanted to remind people not to throw their candy and junk and to take care of nature. So she would come out at night, when the kids were in their beds and after devotions, and so Boulder Woman would come by and throw stones or what we would call “boulders” at the cabins to make certain that they would know that she meant business so that they would know that you were not to throw candy wrappers and that you were to take better care of nature. So that was the main story of Boulder Women, but all the people have told it different ways, I don’t like to tell it really scary because then kids are scared out of their minds. Some other boy counselors decided that no, its really Boulder Man, it’s not Boulder Woman. And so they wanted to make sure that they showed us women that they did not know what we were talking about, but we said “Oh no. Ingrid and I have spoken to Boulder Woman” so . . . we know better. And so what did they do? They went and they took big huge boulders and they threw them at Cabin 8 and one went right through the roof.

Interviewer: What year was this?

Informant: that was in 1979. And another boulder went flying and knocked a 2-foot piece off of Cabin 8, which is probably still visible today. And so we had to stop telling Boulder Man because it was freaking kids out, it was really getting scary. But to this day, I know that there is a Boulder Woman and we don’t know if she is still there or what, but there are remnants of her plates and forks and stuff we have taken kids up there to see Boulder Woman, because that’s where she is, that’s where she lived and that’s what she did for a long time. I haven seen her for many years, but I do know her and I do believe that she was real, because I saw her.

Interviewer’s notes:

The length and detail of the tale are very indicative that the informant is anactive barer of the story. She takes the legend beyond camp lore by asserting that Boulder Woman is in fact true because she has “met” her, which leaves the authenticity entirely up to the audience to decide. This is further complicated by the fact that the informant claims the be the origin of the story. This creates a plausibility which keeps the story alive and well.

Additionally, with a female active barer, who also happens to be the nature director, the tale begins to reflect these aspects. The Boulder Figure now decidedly becomes a Boulder Woman and her presence becomes a cautionary one, warning the campers to respect nature.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The Mathematician, The Physicist and the Engineer

The Mathematician, The Physicist and the Engineer

Informant: I’m a math-econ major so I was always highly interested in math, science, and engineering. I heard this from one of my math professors in high school. Weirdly it was one of my math professors or my religion teacher. So basically you have a mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer. And so they are all in separate classrooms and a fire breaks out in their rubbish pails simultaneously. Uh . . . I can’t remember which one was which, but the physicist calculates the exact amount required to put out the fire and then put outs the fire with very little mess. The engineer just dumps water on it to put out the fire and makes a huge mess. The mathematician on the other hand starts writing on the board, fills up one board, goes on to the next, fills up that one, goes on to the next, fills up that one, puts down his chalk and says, “it can be done, it can be put out”. And that’s basically the joke; it plays off of stereotypes of physicists, engineers, and mathematicians

Interviewer: How old were you approximately when you first heard it?

Informant: I was in high school so I was around 16-17 in Washington D.C

Interviewer: Do you tell it to other people?

Informant: Not really anymore, because I don’t remember it properly. I found it hilarious when I first heard it because I found it so true.

Interviewer’s notes:

This joke is a type of Blason Populaire. The humor of the joke plays off of the stereotypes of physicists as precise, engineers as messy, and mathematicians as over -thinkers. It is interesting to note that the informant is in the same field of study of the subjects of the joke which is indicative of why the informant is compelled to proliferate the joke. For the informant, the humor is enhanced by her ability to relate.

Folk Beliefs
Legends

Bloody Mary Bathroom

Bloody Mary Bathroom

Informant: So in my elementary school, in the old building, there is the little kid’s bathroom. So it was really old and gross and the windows are all scratched up and everyone would say, “that’s where Bloody Mary is and if you’re going to do Bloody Mary, you gotta do it in there, she hangs out in there”. So it’s all beat up, and on the last wall, there is a board. Just a board nailed to the wall, this big (hold out hands 1 ft by 1 ft apart). And it’s painted over, okay, just a board painted over, but they would always say, “ You know why there’s a board there? BECAUSE THERE’S A FINGER UNDER IT!” I don’t remember who told me, I assume its is one of the older girls.

interviewer: Who did you tell this story to?

informant: The new kids, or the younger kids and then they redid it . . .

interviewer: So then did it stop being Bloody Mary Bathroom?

Informant: No, it was still Bloody Mary Bathroom to us, but then I think the tradition died.

Interviewer’s notes:

It is interesting to note the evolution of the variation of the legend. Originally, the old, strange, scary bathroom was dubbed “Bloody Mary Bathroom” because it was strange and scary like Bloody Mary herself. The young students assimilated the story of the board in the bathroom into the legend by correlating the two together. The severed-finger board is now part of the Bloody Mary legend due to their unification in the bathroom and the story has a new variation in this community.

general
Legends
Narrative

Chimp Attack

Chimp Attack

Informant: So two summers ago I went to Costa Rica to do a research project with two USC professors, umm . . . so we were talking because there are capuchins. They’re wild and they’re small, but I was still like afraid of them. Because they have teeth and  . . . . I walked up on them once and they got mad because I got too close to them. Okay, so I was talking with my professor and he was like oh yeah, “You know primates are dangerous because. . . .” and then he started telling me this story about how he had a friend, but he didn’t give me a name, who was in Africa studying chimps in the wild. And the village he was staying had one on like a leash, he has a collar, and he was like their pet. The whole time he was there he didn’t want to get close to it, because their dangerous and then tend to tear off things like fingers and  . . . parts that you don’t want torn off of you. And so one of the last days he was there he finally was like, “fine, I’ll go touch it”, like pet the chimpanzee and he finally got the nerve to do it and he like walks up and puts his hand out to pet it.  There would always be like little children always like playing with it and it was fine and he never saw the chimpanzee do anything bad, he was just afraid because they’re like really strong. So he walks up . . . and he put his hand out . . . and the chimpanzee takes it and like looks him right in his eyes and tears his fingers off. Like at least two or three fingers. It was actually not a good story for the professor to tell me because then I was afraid that the capuchins were actually going to eat me, but I’m not sure if that actually happened.

Interviewer’s notes:

The tale fits the classical definition of a legend in that it may or may not be true. In this case, regardless of the authenticity, it meant to serve as a cautionary tale for the young student. It does so effectively as the student notes that the story instilled even more fear and her and she was further encouraged to stay away from the primates.

This could possibly be a type of Blason Populaire, playing off of the fact that Africa is seen as wild, dangerous, and to be avoided.

Game
Kinesthetic
Legends
Narrative

Chuckie Bathroom

Chuckie Bathroom

Informant: I first heard it from one of my friends, but then it kind of like turned into a game. So there is a bathroom downstairs at my school which weird because there is a toilet where every time you flush it, it makes a burping noise. So it goes like “zzzzzzzzhhhhhhh . . . UGGGH!” So my friends said the toilet is possessed by Chuckie, so that it always tries to swallow you. So now every time I go to bathroom, I like go to the bathroom and then run out of the stall before it like, makes the noise. And then rinse my hands and then run out as quickly as I can. They say the bathroom is possessed because when you put your hand in sometime on the sink for the automatic faucet, the other one, another sink turns on. So they say that he is coming after you, but he always has to wash his hands first.

Interviewer’s notes:

This is an instance were the unknown or “strange” has been demonized. The “Chuckie Bathroom” toilet has deviated from what the children usually expect from a toilet. To cope the children created a story to explain the unusualness which in turn has sparked a legend, and a whole set of corresponding behaviors like running away before the toilet can make “the burping noise”. It is interesting to note, that in creating the legend, they assimilated the bathroom to popular culture through “Chuckie”, which it turn makes it more familiar. Later, what began as a compulsive ritual is reclaimed from the participants as they consciously make a game out of it.

Legends

Buried Teacher

Buried Teacher

Informant: I heard this going into 4th grade. So before Mrs. Stern there was a teacher, and she was the best teacher ever. So this was before the school was going to go under construction. You know how it happened? So she went on vacation for one week and had a sub. So on vacation the principal sent a letter to everybody saying that there is no school one day because they are going under construction, but the teacher, the best teacher, didn’t get it because she was on vacation. So one day she went to school and it was quiet. So then she was there and she was like “Okay, let me just do some work”, but then a big wrecking ball comes and it HITS THE SCHOOL! It buries her in it. So in the fourth grade classroom they say that you can her murmmering below the floors

Interviwer: Where did you hear this story?

Informant: from the 8th graders

Interviewer: where and when did you hear the story?

Informant: It was at drama camp, two years ago.

Interviewer: Do you tell this to other kids?

Informant: yes

Interviewer: like who?

Informant: like new kids

Interviewer’s notes:

The fact the that the story was told to the informant during the summer before fourth grade, indicates that this tale can be seen as a type of initiation story for the younger kids in the school. The eighth graders endow the younger kids with “knowledge” as they enter into the later grades of their elementary education. This reaffirms the hierarchy as the younger children enter into the space of the older kids, the eight graders possess knowledge that the younger kids don’t, therefore they should defer to them.

 

Legends
Narrative

The Doctor and the Architect

The Doctor and the Architect

Informant: Okay so there are two friends, best friends and one grows up to be an architect and one’s a doctor. Then they grow apart because the architect is jealous of the doctor’s success. So the doctor says to the architect that he wants a house and he say’s that he will pay for the supplies. He says he wants the greatest house in the greatest location. So the architect is like, “oh, well, this is my chance”. So they architect goes no to the best location for the “Great house”, and buys the cheapest wood for the “Great house” and buys the cheapest paint for the “great house”. Then he would charge the doctor for the price of the good stuff and keep the cash for himself. So at the point that the house was done, it was a good house, not a great house. So when it was done, the architect presented it to the doctor, but the doctor said, “this house is for you”.

Interviewer’s notes:

This tale is moralistic and fable-esque, in keeping with the Christian traditions of YMCA camp. It implies that a person should always put their best effort forward because one only gets what he gives. Since there is no overt reference to Christianity, this also could coincide with the idea of karma, which would connect the story across religions. The story is told at camp to indoctrinate the kids with a strong moral compass. The setting of camp, the tradition it has as being told orally, means that the tale has the advantage to be really resonate with the campers-which is evident in the young informant’s ability to recall the story. Also, this could be a bit of occupation folklore, playing off of the stereotypes of the respective careers and being inherently and being unsuccessful.

Legends

Cabin 2: The Haunted Cabin

Cabin 2

Informant: I was in there as a C.I.T with Christina and I slept through it, but as I recall. . . because remember I’m really old . . .but its one of those things where the lights kept going on, during the night. It wasn’t the light switch. Like the light switch wasn’t up, but the lights kept going on, so its not like some kid was messing with us. So it wasn’t like Christina would wake up and the light switch would be on type of thing. The lights were going on, but it wasn’t from the light switched being switched within the cabin. And I remember we kind of talked about, oh maybe it was from outside . . .  Let’s put it this way, the lights kept going on  . .  no one took credit for turning the lights on and Christina actually made us change cabins to Cabin 3 because Christina was so freaked out about the cabin.

Interviewer: Approximately what year did this happen?

Informant: O.K . . . if I was a C.I.T, I was probably fifteen. So fifteen, so that would be 1986.

Interviewer: Is there a history of it being haunted?

Informant: Well you always hear, everybody kind of always hears or talks about, one of those first three cabins, though people say different cabins. I say #2, that’s the one in the middle I say #2 other people say different ones. There are always rumors, every year everyone talks about one of those cabins up there being haunted. In my personal experience, it was Cabin 2, so much to the extent that we actually changed cabins.

Interviewer’s notes:

This legend is a perfect example of the multiplicity and variation of folklore. Every year, the story comes back, but with slight variation, especially regarding which cabin is actually haunted. It is this speculation, which keeps the legend alive year to year. Campers think “well it could be true, it could be my cabin”. It could happen to any camper in any cabin since the actual location of the “haunting” has not been pin pointed, which keeps the excitement and the story going. The fact that this tale has persisted since 1986 is testament to that fact. Also, this tale could be an outward projection of many fears that campers face when confronted with being away from home. The various “hauntings” could stem from the generalized anxiety of many campers.

Customs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Foodways
Material
Protection

To a Sweet Performance

To a Sweet Performance

Informant: Every time before a performance, our band teacher will pass out licorice or some form of candy, usually licorice, then raises up the licorice and says, “this goes to a sweet performance”. Then we all raise up our licorice and then we eat it.

Interviewer: And why does he do it?

Informant: Because that’s what his college band director did.

Interviewer: and what college did he go to?

Informant: I’m not sure if it was his high school or college, but I’m pretty sure its his college . . . U Mass? It’s U Mass.

Interviewer: Typically what setting does this take place in?

Informant: It happens before a performance so usually in the band room or on a bus in the parking lot.

Interviewer’s notes:

The eating of food, has come to be a sort of protection ritual for the performance of the band. As a folk metaphor, the actual “sweet” of the candy can be transferred to a metaphorically “sweet” performance, possibly as a type of contagious magic. Additionally, the proliferation of the ritual is evident as it moves from Massachusetts to Southern California, with the band director who has chosen to share this particular tradition with the kids.

 

[geolocation]